Passport

Rubber duckies go around the world in 15 years

Not only do rubber duckies make bath time lots of fun, they tell us a lot about the environment, too. Fifteen years ago, 29,000 bathtub toys—ducks, frogs, turtles, and beavers made of plastic, actually—fell off a container ship in the central Pacific Ocean. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the toys’ movement around the world ...

600075_070808_duckies_05.jpg

Not only do rubber duckies make bath time lots of fun, they tell us a lot about the environment, too.

Fifteen years ago, 29,000 bathtub toys—ducks, frogs, turtles, and beavers made of plastic, actually—fell off a container ship in the central Pacific Ocean.

Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the toys’ movement around the world and has found that about a hundred of them drifted on oceanic currents to Alaska, north to the Bering Sea, across the North Pole, alongside Greenland, and into the North Atlantic. As recently as 2003, one of the ducks washed up on the shore in Maine and one of the frogs landed in Scotland. The container of toys aren’t the only ocean flotsam that Ebbesmeyer has tracked. He’s also tracked 80,000 Nike shoes that were also lost in the Pacific, 34,000 hockey gloves, five million Legos lost off the coast of England, and survey stakes that have drifted in the ocean from Japan. As Ebbesmeyer writes in today’s Wall Street Journal, there is way too much junk, especially plastic junk, in the world’s seas:

Most of it does not biodegrade. It just breaks down into ever smaller pieces, to the size of confetti and, finally, dust. Fish, birds and other marine animals eat this pseudo-planton and pass it up the food chain. Our world-wide litter is poisoning the seas, the creatures within them, and ultimately, ourselves.”

If you spot one of the ducks on your shore, now bleached to white and imprinted with the words “The First Years,” submit a photo and note to Ebbesmeyer’s Web site, www.beachcombersalert.org

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.